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Teaching English Language Learners.

Examine the Topic

Inclusion of multicultural literature in the classroom literacy program is important for both English language learners and students who are native speakers of English. Read these statements by Robert Jiménez and Denise Agosto. Consider how the ideas in these statements reflect your own practices and classroom materials.

One of the best ways that a teacher can support the English language learner is to build classroom libraries that students find enticing and appealing, in terms of materials that they want to look at and read. I really encourage teachers to include as many culturally authentic materials as possible. Include materials that students find interesting, that represent their cultural backgrounds, and that include characters that look like the students themselves, so that they have reasons to make connections with those classroom materials.

-- Robert Jiménez

The best multicultural literature shares five major characteristics: accuracy, expertise, respect, purpose, and quality. Use these characteristics as criteria to identify and evaluate multicultural literature.

  1. Accuracy
    • Are cultural aspects (food, dress, flora, fauna, etc.) portrayed accurately?
    • Does diversity exist among the members of each cultural group portrayed? (Remember that no culture is monolithic. For example, each member of an ethnic group has slightly different facial features. Groups of people should not appear to have identical faces in illustrations; they should look like individuals.)
    • Are non-English words spelled and used correctly?
    • Is historical information correct?
  2. Expertise
    • According to any author/illustrator notes or biographical information, are the author and/or illustrator qualified to write or illustrate material relating to the culture(s) portrayed? How?
    • Have the author and/or illustrator conducted related research? If not, have they lived among (either as a member of or as a visitor to) the groups of people represented in the work?
  3. Respect
    • Do the author and/or illustrator avoid the representation of stereotypes in the characters' speech, appearance, and behaviors?
    • Do the author and/or illustrator avoid using a condescending or negative tone in relation to cultural characteristics of the characters and setting?
    • Are minority characters portrayed as equal in societal worth to majority characters, or are they represented in subordinate social positions? If so, is there a legitimate reason for this representation, or is it due to cultural biases of the author/illustrator?
  4. Purpose
    • Does the cultural setting add to the work, or does it seem superfluous?
    • Could the work succeed equally well if it used a different cultural setting (or characters from a different culture)?
  5. Quality
    • Does the work ring true to you?
    • Are the story elements of setting, plot, and character well developed?
    • Does the dialogue sound natural, not forced?
    • Are the illustrations of high quality for composition, color, and perspective? Do they represent the text?
    • Is the item high quality overall, independent of its multicultural characteristics?

Adapted from Criteria for Evaluating Multicultural Literature by Denise Agosto

Notebook.

Now, write your answers to these questions:

  • Why is reading multicultural literature important for your English language learners? For all students in your classroom?
  • How do the five characteristics of multicultural literature relate to students' comprehension and motivation to read?
  • How should you decide which multicultural texts to select for your classroom library?
  • How can you use multicultural literature within your curriculum?
  • How can English language learners benefit from reading mainstream literature as well as multicultural literature? How can all students?

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